By Ben Agande
AFTER several years of failed trial, the Hydro-Power Producing Areas Development Commission, HYPADEC Bill was recently passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly and assented to by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Sponsor of the Bill, Senator Dahiru Kuta in this interview with Vanguard in Abuja explains that unlike in the Niger Delta where the people who are supposed to be beneficiaries of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC has been relegated to the background, every step would be taken to ensure that the people benefit from the establishment of HYPADEC. Excerpts:
The president recently signed the Hydro-Power Producing Areas Development Commission Bill into Law. Of what significance is this commission to the affected communities?
I am happy that the President has signed the Bill into Law. Since 1968 when the Kainji Dam was commissioned; 1985 when the Jebba Dam was commissioned and 1990 when the Shiroro Dam was commissioned, the dam region, particularly, host communities that are living both at the downstream and upstream of these Hydro stations have faced a lot of negative impacts arising from the operation of these three dams.
In the first place, these people have to give up their lands so that these hydro stations could be built for Nigeria to have electricity. They were supposed to be resettled in an upland where they would not be affected by the perennial flood from the dams.
But no relocation took place. There have been lots of problems arising from the excess water being released from these Dams. It washes away their properties and social amenities, bringing a lot of untold hardship to our farmers. And coming back to the relocation, they were not provided with amenities that would improve the quality of their lives. Many of them did not even get areas where they could live permanent lives. Many families were broken.
The second problem is that the moment these dams were constructed, excess water was released from the dams without any notice to the communities. The result is that the crops of the host communities were destroyed. The communities were also susceptible to such illnesses like malaria and river blindness. These problems are still there.
The setting up of the commission will look into the peculiar problems of the host communities. They will look into whether they would construct dykes or provide other protective mechanisms that would control the flow of the water on a permanent basis. It is not going to be just sending relief materials to the affected areas. Some of the communities who are still living in the flood plains of Rivers Niger and Kaduna would be easily taken care of because the commission would be able to provide accurate information.
If you went to where the people have been resettled, you will weep for them. There are no roads, no schools, no clinics and no drinking water. Even wells that had been dug have dried up. The topography of any dam site is such that it is difficult to get boreholes that would yield water. The streams that they used to go to get water have been swallowed by the dam. The streams that they used to go to for fishing have been swallowed by the dams. They have to travel by boat for a long distance to get to the farm lands and sometimes, their dugout boats capsize. These are some of the issues.
It is ironic that the communities that gave their lands for the dams to be constructed do not have access to electricity. We feel that the moment the commission is put into place, all these problems would be addressed. We are not going to be aggressive. Through dialogue, we believe that some of these problems would be addressed by the setting up of the commission.
The experience we have had in the past is that when agencies like this are set up, communities that are intended to benefit from it do not benefit. What measure would be put in place to avoid this kind of scenario?
We are learning from the experiences of the Niger Delta region. Even in our area, the educated people used the dam to enrich themselves by bringing pittance as resettlement money. The compensation was so humiliating but it was the people from the area that were used to defraud the masses.
The moment the commission is in place, we will ensure that whatever is meant for a particular project will be strictly monitored. We will ensure that the communities will be involved in the monitoring of what is happening in the commission. What is happening in the Niger Delta is unfortunate and surprising because the level of education of the people is higher than my place.
But unfortunately what is supposed to be available to the people is not trickling down to the people as it should. It is a lesson and by the grace of God, we will not allow that mistake to happen in the case of HYPADEC as it is happening in the Niger Delta area.
Was there any specific mechanism infused into the law setting up the commission to avert what is happening in the case of the NDDC?
One of the things that we are trying to do is to test the provisions of the Act. As we implement the Act we will know the areas of strength and weakness of the Act. Even the communities themselves are wiser now because of what is happening in the Niger Delta region.
That is why you have several associations coming up and they want to ensure that they are on top of what would go on in the commission. I think there would be no problems but we will ensure that what the law does not provide for, we will bring amendments to accommodate that. Our people are getting informed now and I think it would be difficult for anybody to come and mismanage the resources meant for the community.
Your state still remains the largest state in the federation. With the commission now, would you pursue the creation of a new state to accommodate the areas we are talking about?
I am not thinking that way. It is not something that you get over night. For the time being, I do not see that happening now. The three hydro dams are located in each of the three Senatorial Districts of Niger State. The moment you have Edu State, Jebba Dam would go to that state and it would automatically become part of the HYPADDEC community so there would be no problem.
What informed the inclusion of Plateau State in the Act and secondly, is there any provision for the inclusion of more states if other Hydro Electric dams were constructed?
Plateau State was included at the last minute. There is a Hydro station in Plateau State which was established in 1930 and it is generating 25 mega watts into the national grid.